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A Statement, A T-Shirt, A Lawsuit

At this past weekend’s Panorama Festival, Frank Ocean wore a shirt that said “WHY BE RACIST, SEXIST, HOMOPHOBIC, OR TRANSPHOBIC WHEN YOU COULD JUST BE QUIET?” – and people went wild.

But all isn’t what it seems: the shirt – created by 18 year old Kayla Robinson’s Green Box Shop – features a phrase ostensibly lifted from a Tweet made in 2015 by Brandon Male. The result? A very interesting, very fashionable lawsuit that lands between creative expression and freedom of speech.

The (potential) case here is all tied up with permissions that Internet users sometimes feel do not exist. As the New York Times notes of the incident, there are no black or white answers for such instances of intellectual property and such situations should always be addressed in the same way: “when in doubt, reach out.” Ask for permission.

That didn’t happen here, unfortunately, as Robinson was sent Male’s words from a third party DM. Robinson is trying to make amends but the real question is if Male could potentially win a case here (or if others, in future predicaments, could do the same).

As the always brilliant The Fashion Law reports, if Male did originate the words on Twitter, he does have copyright ownership over it.

Male’s copyright in the phrase also means that others are not legally allowed to do so without his prior authorization. Also worth noting is that crediting your source does not alleviate copyright infringement claims if the copyright holder did not authorize use.

Interesting and interesting.

While all intentions here were pure, the Internet isn’t all fun and games when money is involved. Credit goes where credit is due – or big problems come with the territory. These are hard lessons but, hey, it’s better to find them out sooner instead of when a lawsuit looms above.

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